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Schubert: String Quartets Nos. 12 & 15

Schubert: String Quartets Nos. 12 & 15


Schubert:

String Quartet No. 12 in C minor (fragment), D703 ‘Quartettsatz'

String Quartet No. 15 in G Major, D887


Alongside its highly praised Haydn series, the Doric String Quartet continues its Schubert journey with this second volume of quartets, which precipitates us into the fraught world of late Schubert. Both composers will be central in the Quartet’s recitals next year, to take place in the highest-profile international venues, from New York’s Carnegie Hall to Berlin’s Konzerthaus, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, and London’s Wigmore Hall.

Franz Schubert returned to composing string quartets in the 1820s, after four years of focusing on songs which were beginning to gain him wider recognition.

His late chamber compositions reveal probably his most characteristic music, full of deep intimacy and profound ambivalence. The ‘Quartettsatz’ (Quartet Movement) presents a turbulent, norm-breaking first movement. Only a fragment survives of a serene Andante in A flat, and nothing for any scherzo or finale. If the 'Rosamunde' and 'Death and the Maiden' (CHAN10737) are the most frequently heard of the quartets of Schubert, his last completed one – in G major – certainly remains his most uncompromising in its vastness, and perhaps his most prophetic of the musical future.

“They attack the 1820 “Quartettsatz” in C minor with alarming intensity, flashing through its single movement with fiery determination, and maintain the same tension throughout...A standout recording of 2017 – and it’s still only January.” The Observer, 8th January 2017 ****

“If this exciting performance has a fault, it’s to exaggerate the pianissimos. Otherwise, nothing but praise for their incisive, imaginative account.” Sunday Times, 29th January 2017

“Even in a work as well known as the Quartettsatz they lend character through elasticity of phrasing, which nicely counterbalances the piece’s inherent energy. But the main event is the G major Quartet...And very impressive it is too, spacious without ever sounding ponderous.” Gramophone Magazine, February 2017

“Dramatic readings of these masterpieces from this brilliant young British quartet.” MusicWeb International, 15th February 2017

GGramophone Awards 2017

Shortlisted - Chamber

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - February 2017

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Sibelius: In the Stream of Life

Sibelius: In the Stream of Life

Songs by Sibelius


Sibelius:

Pohjola's Daughter, Op. 49

In the Stream of Life

Seven Songs orch. E. Rautavaara. Premiere recording

Koskenlaskijan morsiamet (The Rapids-Rider’s Brides), Op. 33

Romance in C major for strings, Op. 42

Hymn to Thaïs (Text: Arthur H. Borgström)

Demanten på marssnön, Op. 36 No. 6 (Wecksell)

Hertig Magnus, Op. 57 No. 6

The Oceanides, Op. 73

På verandan på vid havet, Op. 38 No. 2 (Viktor Runeberg)

I natten, Op. 38 No. 3

Kom nu hit, Död, Op. 60 No. 1 (Bertel Gripenberg after Shakespeare)


Read Presto's complete review of this disc here

The exceptional collaboration and friendship between the late Einojuhani Rautavaara and the internationally acclaimed bass-baritone Gerald Finley culminates in this unique album of orchestral songs by Sibelius, on which the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by Edward Gardner.

The album offers orchestrations, by Sibelius and others, of songs which Sibelius originally wrote for voice and piano, and includes the premiere recording of In the Stream of Life, seven songs orchestrated by Rautavaara for his friend. Throughout, the poetry perfectly reflects the instinctively felt relation between Finnish nature and Sibelius’s music.

As Finley reveals: ‘the recording of [In the Stream of Life] became a very personal project when the sessions took place only a few weeks after [Rautavaara’s] death, in the same week as his funeral... and I am so thankful that a final addition was made possible when in the last months of his life [Rautavaara] agreed to orchestrate “Hjärtats morgon” and include it in the group.’

“Rautavaara's orchestrations are so convincingly Sibelian that on first hearing I completely forgot I wasn't listening to the The Real Thing...Finley is in magnificent voice throughout: though it's relatively uncommon to find non-Finnish singers tackling this repertoire, he seems completely at home with both the sound-world and the texts.” Katherine Cooper, Presto Classical, 30th December 2016

“Finley sings them all with his usual finesse and careful shading, reserving his full power for the few genuinely climactic moments...The subtle, respectful orchestrations wrap around his voice like a glove...Gardner and his orchestra include very fine performances of three orchestral works.” The Guardian, 4th January 2017 ****

“The measured beauty of Gerald Finley’s singing in subdued songs conjures impressive wintry vistas” Financial Times, January 2017

“An impressive if idiosyncratic programme” Gramophone Magazine, February 2017

“these new versions perfectly capture and amplify the spirit of Sibelius’s songs. Gerald Finley, a close friend of Rautavaara, makes an ideal case for the new settings, and his approach to the Swedish language of the texts is flowing and lyrical.” Classical Ear, 16th February 2017

“This haunting disc is as much a tribute to the Canadian singer’s close friendship with the late Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara as it is a declaration of love for Sibelius’s songs...Dark and brooding, they are a fitting memorial.” Sunday Times, 19th February 2017

“A disc of songs and orchestral works for all devotees of Sibelius.” MusicWeb International, 3rd March 2017

“a highly memorable disc.” BBC Music Magazine, May 2017 ****

Presto Disc of the Week

30th December 2016

GGramophone Awards 2017

Shortlisted - Solo Vocal

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Handel: Messiah

Handel: Messiah

New Concert Edition by Sir Andrew Davis


Erin Wall (soprano), Elizabeth DeShong (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Staples (tenor), John Relyea (bass-baritone)

Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis

Experience the transcendent glory of Messiah in Sir Andrew Davis’s new, majestic, must-hear edition of Handel’s beloved classic.

Recorded live for SACD release in surround sound, this unique version makes use of all the colours available from the modern symphony orchestra to underline the mood and meaning of the individual movements. Without detracting from the innate power of the original, the conductor’s score calls for moments of drama, pathos, and even, sometimes, whimsicality. It is supported by substantial brass and woodwind forces, and several percussion instruments (including marimba!). As he explains in a very personal booklet note, this leading British conductor brings immense dedication to what is probably the most famous piece of British sacred music ever composed, this version being one which he has conducted live only a few times, including on this recording. He confesses: ‘Everything I have done instrumentally stems from the enormous respect, even awe, which I feel towards this supreme masterpiece’.

“Davis has thrown every resource of the modern symphony orchestra at the task. The result is rather as if the Disney Corporation had bought the rights to the show...The Toronto Symphony Orchestra plays with terrific spirit, especially the brass, and there are four excellent soloists.” The Times, 2nd December 2016 ****

“A performance I will return to often and with great pleasure.” MusicWeb International, 13th December 2016

“Davis’s new orchestration of Messiah is either, depending on your point of view, an act of unpardonable musical blasphemy or a gloriously tongue-in-cheek tribute to a well-loved masterpiece...the overall effect is just of a lush, Romantic orchestration rather than of forced aural gimmickry.” David Smith, Presto Classical, 2nd December 2016

“This is obviously not a basic ‘Library ‘ Messiah but can be cautiously recommended as a curiosity for those enjoy arrangements and transcriptions.” Gramophone Magazine, January 2017

“Astonishingly well controlled…the solo voices are rich and weighty…[the] flute provides a charming obbligato to ‘How beautiful are the feet’, while the tenor’s ‘Thy rebuke…’ is intensely moving…a remarkable choral achievement” BBC Music Magazine, January 2017 ****

Presto Disc of the Week

2nd December 2016

Presto Discs of 2016

Finalist

BBC Music Magazine

Choral & Song Choice - January 2017

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Schoenberg: Gurrelieder

Schoenberg: Gurrelieder


Alwyn Mellor (soprano), Anna Larsson (mezzo-soprano), Stuart Skelton (tenor), Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke (tenor), James Creswell (bass) & Sir Thomas Allen (speaker)

Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Bergen Philharmonic Choir, Choir of Collegiûm Mûsicûm, Edvard Grieg Kor, Orphei Drängar, Students from the Royal Northern College of Music, Edward Gardner

Recorded live on SACD in the sumptuous acoustic of Grieghallen in Bergen, this mind-blowing interpretation of Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder involves 350 performers: large choral forces, six exceptional soloists, and the legendary Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra – extended for the occasion – all conducted by Edward Gardner.

Marking the pinnacle of the Orchestra’s 250th anniversary celebrations, the same forces offered two evening concerts that met with unanimous acclaim in the press, including a five-star review from The Daily Telegraph praising the ‘sweep of Gardner's conducting, by turns luminous and incisive’. It added, ‘He unleashed the piece’s volcanic passions while never becoming mired in its high-calorific density, and somehow avoided drowning the singers’, and also congratulated the ‘heroic’ Stuart Skelton, ‘warm’ Alwyn Mellor, ‘ethereal’ Anna Larsson, and ‘powerful’ Thomas Allen.

“Gardner’s grasp of scale and momentum is as strong as Stenz’s, and his cast is more balanced...Gardner has the thrillingly heroic Stuart Skelton in the work’s most prominent solo part, pouring out his love for Tove in ringing tones...The playing and singing of Gardner’s Bergen forces are as intoxicating as any I know on disc.” Sunday Times, 23rd October 2016

“The playing of the Bergen Philharmonic is rich, seductive and sensuous...Gardner’s operatic experience means he’s alive to the lyricism and drama of the piece in equal measure: there’s ardent longing aplenty and a real willingness to explore the sheer gorgeousness of the score.” Gramophone Magazine, October 2016

“although this account was recorded over four days, it rolls onwards with the dynamism of a single live performance...for luminous atmosphere and edge-of-the-seat excitement, Gardner’s Bergen forces offer something special.” The Times, 30th September 2016 ****

“The hero is Edward Gardner, under whose wonderfully flexible beat this hyper-Romantic music positively breathes in long lyrical phrases and paragraphs. Nor are the excitements lacking: the coda to the Klaus episodes fizzes with crazy virtuosity and the final sunrise is as grandly summatory as any” BBC Music Magazine, Christmas 2016 *****

“There is an amplitude of tonal richness, against which Alwyn Mellor and Stuart Skelton sing on a heroic scale” Financial Times, 2nd December 2016

“A top class performance and magnificent recording of this vast piece.” MusicWeb International, 20th January 2017

Presto Discs of 2016

Finalist

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - October 2016

Building a Library

Also Recommended - March 2017

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Bacewicz: String Quartets

Bacewicz: String Quartets


Bacewicz:

String Quartet No. 1

String Quartet No. 2

String Quartet No. 3

String Quartet No. 4

String Quartet No. 5

String Quartet No. 6

String Quartet No. 7


For their very first recording on Chandos, the multiaward winning Silesian Quartet presents the complete string quartets by Grażyna Bacewicz. These lesser known chamber music treasures by the Polish composer are neatly packaged in a slimline jewel case: two discs here offered for the price of one.

The life of Bacewicz, like that of better-known colleagues such as Witold Lutosławski and Andrzej Panufnik, was conditioned by the political and military events of her time. Her works reflected not only these traumas but also the shifting stylistic currents of twentieth-century music.

Her seven string quartets, written between 1938 and 1965, are a telling barometer of these changes. They also stand as a timeline of her resolute compositional outlook and as a testament to her profound understanding of string instruments. String Quartet No. 1 comes after her studies in Paris in 1932 – 35 with Nadia Boulanger (composition), André Touret, and Carl Flesch (both violin), No. 2 was written in Warsaw during World War II, Nos 3, 4, and 5 date from the post-war decade, a time of socialist-realist cultural upheavals, while Nos 6 and 7 were composed during the avant-garde musical explosion that thrust Polish music onto the world stage in the late 1950s.

“These seven works, composed between 1938 and 1965, add up to a compelling portrait of a powerfully original creative spirit...the whole group seem to understand this life-affirming music from the inside.” Gramophone Magazine, August 2016

“their default playing style is springy and fleet-footed, bringing out the idiomatic nature of Bacewicz’s string writing.” The Guardian, 21st July 2016 ****

“The Silesian lend vibrant warmth to [the First Quartet]…[and] handle [the later quartets] with precision and élan: a tremendous achievement” BBC Music Magazine, September 2016 *****

“This remarkable canon of works here receives advocacy of the highest order: equally at home in the instantly approachable early quartets as the more challenging sixth and seventh, the Silesian Quartet brings admirable focus, determination and concentration to every bar” Classical Music, August 2016 ****

“Excellent performances, sound and booklet notes make this a real winner. A clear first choice for the string quartets of Grażyna Bacewicz.” Music Week, October 2016

“This is now the favoured option in this repertoire.” MusicWeb International, 20th October 2016

Presto Discs of 2016

Finalist

GGramophone Awards 2017

Winner - Chamber

GGramophone Magazine

Disc of the Month - August 2016

Gramophone Award Winners

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Neeme Järvi conducts Ibert

Neeme Järvi conducts Ibert


Ibert:

Ouverture de fete

Escales

Bacchanale

Divertissement

Hommage a Mozart

Feerique

Sarabande pour Dulcinée

Paris, Suite Symphonique pour orchestre


Neeme Järvi and the OSR continue their exploration of French orchestral music with this fourth album: a merry collection from the best of the vigorously ebullient music of Jacques Ibert. Among the numerous winners of the famous Prix de Rome between its institution by Napoleon in 1803 and its abandonment in 1968, the twentieth century provides us with repertoire works from only one composer: Jacques Ibert, whose characteristically clear orchestration is emphasised by strong melodic lines and supported by lively ostinato patterns in the bass. At the same time, the album reveals what an eclectic composer Ibert was. The contrast between his two best-known pieces is a perfect example: Divertissement, for small orchestra, is light-hearted, even frivolous; Escales..., on the other hand, is a ripely romantic work for large orchestra. Like the previous recordings in this series, the unique acoustic of Geneva’s Victoria Hall is perfectly captured in surround sound on this SACD.

“Ibert emerges from it all as a fine composer, whose unity lies in his almost impudent diversity, and who is often far from frivolous as some have maintained. And the disc allows Järvi to show off his Swiss orchestra to perfection. Very fine.” Gramophone Magazine, May 2016

“This disc reveals much of interest to explore beyond the familiar items. Feérique sparkles, and the symphonic suite Paris finds Ibert at his most inventive, mixing jazzy playfulness with suave exoticisms…the highlight, though, is Escales, which finds Järvi and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande on top form and benefiting from recorded sound that is wonderful on CD and outstanding on SACD.” BBC Music Magazine, June 2016 ****

“An attractive introduction to Ibert’s exquisitely crafted orchestral music” MusicWeb International, 9th June 2016

“Neeme Järvi conducts the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in sumptuous performances” Financial Times, 22nd July 2016

“Generously-filled, splendidly played and magnificently recorded” classicalsource.com, December 2016

Presto Discs of 2016

Finalist

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - May 2016

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Tchaikovsky & Khachaturian: Piano Concertos

Tchaikovsky & Khachaturian: Piano Concertos


Khachaturian:

Piano Concerto in D flat major

Tchaikovsky:

Piano Concerto No. 2 in G major, Op. 44

original version


After a year off the concert platform, Xiayin Wang, a specialist in the romantic repertoire, presents a new recording of two relatively little-played piano concertos: No. 2 by Tchaikovsky, in its much lesser known yet extremely virtuosic original version, and Khachaturian’s. The disc also marks the 125th anniversary of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, here conducted by its Music Director, Peter Oundjian. Involving the same forces as Wang’s earlier recording of American concertos (Editor’s Choice in the magazine Pianist), the album follows a performance in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall, described by The Scotsman as ‘breathtakingly athletic’. Composed more than fifty years apart, these pieces have perhaps only one thing in common, namely an opening grandiosity or grandeur. Yet, while Tchaikovsky in 1879, in his heyday, undercut imperial splendour with a wealth of contrasting material that pointed the way ahead to more experimental, post imperial concertos such as Prokofiev’s Second, Khachaturian’s folk generalisations, vaguely Armenian or Georgian, remain the consistent thumbprints of a rather heavier style.

“From the first bar, you know that this brilliant Chinese-American pianist is the business...she leads from the front throughout to exhilarating effect...If you do not have a recording of the Tchaikovsky, then this is up with the very best; likewise the Khachaturian. Paired together, it’s a no-brainer.” Gramophone Magazine, May 2016

“Fiery and dramatic performances. A superb disc in every respect” MusicWeb International, 6th June 2016

“Wang…is unfailingly fleet and musical, superbly partnered, realistically balanced and with all the benefits of modern sounds” International Piano, September 2016 *****

Presto Discs of 2016

Finalist

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - May 2016

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Copland: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1 - Ballets

Copland: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1 - Ballets


Copland:

Fanfare for the Common Man

El Salón México

Billy the Kid - Suite

Appalachian Spring - Suite

Rodeo (Four Dance Episodes)


Read Presto's complete review of this disc here.

For this new series, the conductor, arranger, and light music specialist John Wilson, a BBC Proms favourite, for the first time joins the BBC Philharmonic on Chandos, in orchestral works by Aaron Copland. This first volume features the suites from the American composer’s most famous ballets. Written in 1938, the hugely successful Billy the Kid is a fine illustration of the limpid orchestration and clarity that Copland achieved in works made famous thanks to their popular accessibility. Similarly, four years later, in Appalachian Spring, he created a lastingly influential American soundworld, firmly rooted in the diatonicism of simple folk melodies. A third ‘nationalist’ ballet, Rodeo, and Fanfare for the Common Man were composed in the same year, 1942, the latter being possibly the most instantly recognizable piece in the history of American orchestral music. The energetic dances and national melodies of El Salón México reveals Copland’s other use of folk material, as a musical souvenir of foreign lands that had made an impression of him.

This album was recorded two months after a highly successful concert broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.

“Wilson is in his element here, coaxing razzmatazzy playing from the BBC Philharmonic in the rhythmically charged Mexican Dance and battle scene from Billy the Kid, and the Buckaroo Holiday and Hoe-Down from Rodeo. There is tenderness, too, even a touch of Leonard Bernsteinesque wallowing in the unforgettable folksy melodies of Appalachian Spring” Sunday Times, 17th January 2016

“Wilson's performances are…impressive, and he secures superb playing from the BBC Philharmonic…the three ballets receive strongly characterised interpretations, as piquant and affecting in the slower passages as they are punchy and ebullient in the faster ones…I enjoyed listening to this disc enormously.” Gramophone Magazine, March 2016

“John Wilson shows an instinctive flair for Copland's syncopated and changing rhythms, and brings out all the music's broad humour and intimate poetry” BBC Music Magazine, March 2016

“His lifelong immersion in the sound-world of 30s and 40s American music is evident from the off, with the distant trumpets in Fanfare for the Common Man glowing with that vibrato-warmed vintage brass sound that’s so distinctive in his recordings of the great musicals...every single phrase of all the works presented here feels truly balletic, and the music never stops dancing.” Katherine Cooper, Presto Classical, 29th January 2016

“The conductor is a natural in Copland’s most celebrated ballet scores: Billy the Kid, Rodeo and Appalachian Spring.” The Times, December 2016

Presto Disc of the Week

29th January 2016

Presto Discs of 2016

Winner

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - March 2016

BBC Music Magazine

Orchestral Choice - March 2016

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Casella: Orchestral Works Volume 4

Casella: Orchestral Works Volume 4


Casella:

Symphonic Fragments from ‘Le Couvent sur l’eau’, Op. 19

Elegia eroica (‘Heroic Elegy’), Op. 29

Gillian Keith (soprano)

Symphony No. 1 in B minor, Op. 5


Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic here present a fourth captivating volume of orchestral works by Alfredo Casella, part of our ongoing Musica Italiana series.

In 1912, with his music for the ‘choreographic comedy’ Le Couvent sur l’eau, Casella demonstrated that stylistic versatility was no disadvantage for a ballet composer, and although Diaghilev turned down the work for the Ballets Russes, Casella selected the highly colourful and once popular ‘symphonic fragments’, heard here, for concert use.

Similarly, the Elegia eroica is stylistically eclectic, constructed, according to Casella, as a ‘vast triptych’, opening with a dissonant funeral march and ending with a comforting, tuneful lullaby. Casella wrote this piece, which he dedicated ‘to the memory of a soldier killed in the war’, after Italy had entered the First World War and suffered enormous losses.

The three-movement Symphony in B minor is an early work (1906) of creative energy and burning conviction, in which Casella’s enthusiasm for Russian music is revealed already in the sombre Mussorgskyan opening theme. This hypnotic first movement is almost pleasantly oppressive in comparison to the gentler, melodious second, and the bold final movement represents the adventurous exploits of an ambitious young composer.

“As with the series as a whole, the performances are exemplary. Noseda’s familiar combination of rigour and emotional extremism is in evidence throughout...Gillian Keith is the aptly glacial-sounding soprano, and the playing throughout is terrific in its intensity and panache. Highly recommended.” Gramophone Magazine, November 2015

“Another maligned musical voice…Casella has been well served in this fourth volume by Chandos, and by Noseda, who has a real feel for the quicksilver quirkiness herein” Classical Music, January 2016 *****

“Although Casella is known better as a pianist and teacher, these four discs can change your mind about his merits as a composer...Keith sighs her way languidly through the part for wordless soprano in the “Barcarolle.”” Washington Post, 26th February 2016

GGramophone Awards 2016

Shortlisted - Orchestral

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - November 2015

BBC Music Magazine

Orchestral Choice

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Bliss: Morning Heroes & Hymn to Apollo

Bliss: Morning Heroes & Hymn to Apollo


Bliss:

Morning Heroes

Samuel West (orator)

BBC Symphony Chorus

Hymn to Apollo

original version


Read Presto's complete review of this disc here.

Sir Andrew Davis here conducts the BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra in works by Sir Arthur Bliss, with Samuel West as orator.

The disc was recorded after a remarkable performance of Morning Heroes at the Barbican in May 2015, The Guardian praising the 'excellent' Samuel West, and Davis who 'got [the] mood exactly right, and both the orchestra and chorus did everything that he asked of them… [producing] a convincingly symphonic shape'. 'One of the finest British choral works of its time,' it concluded, this work is 'now not heard as often as it deserves.'

The piece is coupled with the Hymn to Apollo, recorded here for the first time in its original 1926 version. Bliss said that this work of wistful sadness, anguish, and anger 'moves like a procession of supplicants'. Like many of his works, Morning Heroes and Hymn to Apollo were composed as a tribute to his brother Kennard who had died on the front during WWI. Both works were premiered in the 30's to immediate success but have been rather neglected since then.

“This is a highly significant musical response to the First World War, and Davis and his musicians give it their all. If there’s any justice, this new recording will help to restore the work to its rightful place in the repertoire.” David Smith, Presto Classical, 18th September 2015

“this new recording is a revelation for its clarity (notably of the composer's vivid orchestral palette and imaginative choral writing), coherence and sheer emotional intensity” Gramophone Magazine, November 2015

“Sir Andrew Davis's performance with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus surpasses Sir Charles Groves's fine 1974 EMI Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra account with urgent tempos, choral singing of full tone and incisive attack, eloquent orchestral playing, and an excellent, open recording” BBC Music Magazine, December 2015 *****

Presto Disc of the Week

25th September 2015

Presto Discs of 2015

Finalist

GGramophone Awards 2016

Finalist - Choral

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